Twenty years ago, UNICEF asked pediatrician Dr. Stanley Zlotkin for a better way to treat and prevent childhood anemia. Infants and young children can’t swallow pills, so iron deficiency had previously been treated with iron syrup, which tastes metallic, stains teeth and is hard to measure. Zlotkin, now chief of the Centre for Global Child Health at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, came up with the idea of a revolutionary micronutrient powder, which he called “Sprinkles.”
Micronutrient powders are a daily dose of iron, as well as other minerals and vitamins, packaged in a small sachet. A parent simply tears it open and mixes its contents into the child’s semi-solid food. The powder doesn’t alter the food’s taste, texture or colour because the iron has been coated. When used correctly, it reduces the risk of anemia by 50 to 80 percent while also combatting other nutrient deficiencies. It’s also cheap: each sachet costs only two to three cents to produce.
Pediatrician Dr. Stanley Zlotkin with packets of "springles." Photo by Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press
After SickKids declined to jump on
board, Zlotkin patented his own invention — though he never personally
profited from it. For about a decade, he worked with the H.J. Heinz
Company in Pittsburgh and five other manufacturers worldwide to produce
Sprinkles. He managed to reach about four million children in 18
countries, but it wasn’t enough. Iron deficiency affects 293 million
children globally. In 2007, he relinquished the patent outside of North
America, putting his product in the public domain. “The bad news is that
I can’t control the quality,” he says. “The good news is that there’s
much wider production.”
an estimated 500 million sachets are manufactured annually in dozens of
countries. In 2013 alone, UNICEF and local governments delivered
sachets to about 3.6 million children in 43 countries. Zlotkin works
closely with UNICEF, and his research continues to help the global
producers improve their product. He and other researchers recently
discovered that adding macrominerals such as calcium, phosphorous and
magnesium to the sachet can reduce the incidence of stunting in babies
by 65 percent, giving them a better chance to grow and have healthy
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